MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

RIP Julian Bream (1933-2020)

The great musician on technique, from an interview in 2014:
“All my technique – on the guitar, the lute, the baroque guitar, and not forgetting the vihuela, was totally homemade. I’ve never really been taught how to play these plucked instruments. Therefore, I have an ideal of sound in my head and I get as near as I can to realizing that sound. So I use any stroke or method of playing that gives me satisfaction first, that also realizes my ambition in matters of sound and articulation.”

Allan Kozinn offers a lengthy appreciation here.

Filed under: guitar, obituary

RIP Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020)

Another great one has passed. Krzysztof Penderecki was one of the first postwar “Modernist” composers I remember responding to immediately when I was first discovering music. Culture.pl has a summary of his career here.

“I also have my Iliad and my Odyssey,” Penderecki said in a 1993 speech, referring to a famous quote by Goethe according to which the artist’s life replicates the full Homeric paradigm: a youthful, heroic struggle a la Iliad typically is followed by a “homecoming” in later age, resembling Odysseus’ desire to return home.

“For me, Troy was the avant-garde, the era of youthful rebellion and faith in the possibility of changing the way of the world through art.” But once this phase had been lived through, “I realized that there was more of destruction than of building anew” in the avant-garde approach.

Penderecki became the “Trojan horse” of the avant-garde, turning back toward the inspiration he found in tradition. Viewed as a complete arc, his career might be interpreted as an ongoing search for a synthesis of these warring tendencies. “The conscious use of tradition,” he observed, “became an opportunity for overcoming [the] dissonance between the artist and the audience.”

The composer Derek Bermel offers an intriguing glimpse of the master, whom he encountered in his days as a graduate student at the University of Michigan:

On the last day, after his concert in Indiana, we drove through a small forest, a fertile valley in the vast, flat Indiana heartland, and he reminisced about his own schooling. “At the Academy of Music in Kraków, we had no access to the modern music from the West. It was the early 1950s, and Poland was occupied….“Then one day Luigi Nono came across the Iron Curtain to give masterclasses. And he brought with him dozens of scores from the West, so many new, interesting scores; we didn’t even have Bartók’s and Webern’s music; we were very deprived. You have to understand… we needed these scores, we needed them more than you can imagine. So before he returned to Italy, we made sure to copy them all.”

Daniel Lewis’s NYT obituary notes Penderecki’s presence in film scores (The Exorcist, The Shining) and his appeal to adventurous pop musicians: “Artists as disparate as Kele Okereke of Bloc Party and Robbie Robertson of the Band professed to have been inspired by him. But his influence is most directly evident in the music of Jonny Greenwood, the classically trained guitarist of Radiohead.”

From Penderecki’s publisher, Schott:

Penderecki composed several of his works in remembrance of catastrophes in the 20th century. Threnos for 52 string instruments, composed in 1960, is dedicated to the victims of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and the piano concerto Resurrection was composed as a reaction to the terror attacks of 11 September 2001. For Penderecki, these associations in content are not merely an abstract concept, but also in their instrumental tonal colouring and dramatic sounds emotionally comprehensible for listeners. Extensive political-social associations can also be found in the Polish Requiem which he began in 1980 with the composition of the Lacrimosa which is dedicated to Lech Walesa. The composer dedicated other movements of this work to the Polish victims of Auschwitz and the Warsaw uprising in 1944. This was supplemented by the Ciaccona in memoriam Johannes Paul II in 2005 which commemorated the Polish Pope.

Here’s the exceptionally beautiful horn concerto Winterreise, which Penderecki composed in the winter of 2007:

Filed under: Krzysztof Penderecki, obituary

RIP Neil Peart (1952-2020)

From Brian Hiatt’s appreciation in Rolling Stone:

Peart was one of rock’s greatest drummers, with a flamboyant yet precise style that paid homage to his hero, the Who’s Keith Moon, while expanding the technical and imaginative possibilities of his instrument… His drum fills on songs like “Tom Sawyer” were pop hooks in their own right, each one an indelible mini-composition; his lengthy drum solos, carefully constructed and packed with drama, were highlights of every Rush concert.

Filed under: obituary

RIP Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

The losses continue mercilessly.

From the New York Times obituary:

Mr. Cohen was an unlikely and reluctant pop star, if in fact he ever was one. He was 33 when his first record was released in 1967. He sang in an increasingly gravelly baritone. He played simple chords on acoustic guitar or a cheap keyboard. And he maintained a private, sometime ascetic image at odds with the Dionysian excesses associated with rock ’n’ roll.

[…]

“The changeless is what he’s been about since the beginning,” the writer Pico Iyer argued in the liner notes for the anthology “The Essential Leonard Cohen.” “Some of the other great pilgrims of song pass through philosophies and selves as if through the stations of the cross. With Cohen, one feels he knew who he was and where he was going from the beginning, and only digs deeper, deeper, deeper.”

Filed under: music news, obituary

RIP Sir Neville Marriner (1924-2016)

Gramophone looks back over the long, influential career of a master:

Sir Neville Marriner’s natural habitat for the past half-century has been the recording studio. With the Academy of St Martin in the Fields he has made hundreds of recordings of a breadth of repertoire that few other conductors (even the equally eclectic Herbert von Karajan) achieved…. His performances of music of the Classical period … were characterised by the vitality and energy of which Murray Perahia speaks.

From Tim Page’s obituary:

The decision to name the ensemble the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields was a practical one.

“It was the place where we gave our first ever concert back in 1958, so there’s significance in that,” Mr. Marriner told the London Daily Telegraph in 2014. “But the real reason we took the name was that the vicar let us rehearse there for free so long as we publicized the church. That was the deal. And it was his idea that we should be an ‘academy’ rather than the ‘chamber orchestra’ we’d originally planned to call ourselves.”

 

Filed under: music news, obituary

Pierre Boulez, Modernist Legend, Dies at 90

PierreBoulez-1050x700Here’s my obituary for Napster:

French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, who wielded incalculable influence on the modern music scene, died at his home in Baden-Baden, Germany, on Tuesday, January 5. He was 90.

Boulez gained fame as an uncompromising champion of the avant-garde and ranked among the towering figures of European modernism in the 20th century. He remained a powerful force for innovation in the world of classical music until his death.

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Filed under: music news, obituary, Pierre Boulez

RIP Pierre Boulez (1925-2016)

The end of an era. From Lucerne Festival director Michael Haefliger’s eulogy :

“I am a French composer, conductor, and writer.” Most likely, this is the answer Pierre Boulez would have given anyone who asked him to describe his work as an artist: an answer that is precise, to the point, without ostentation or any kind of theatrical posing. This is how most of us “youngsters” experienced, felt, and saw Pierre Boulez. And this is how he became a great model for us, indeed, almost a “demigod.” We admired what he did and the goals which he steadfastly pursued, regardless of whether they involved relatively small or large revolutions. Last night, he left us. We mourn the loss of a great human being and artist, one who infinitely enriched and influenced this Festival.

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Filed under: Lucerne Festival, obituary, Pierre Boulez

In memoriam: Gerald Perman

gperman

Last month saw the passing of Gerald Perman, the generous and unfailingly gracious music lover who did so much for the arts in my hometown. I fondly recall many wonderful musical experiences in the early days of the Vocal Arts Society (including the solo DC debut of a soprano named Renée Fleming).

Tim Page on the legacy of this wonderful man:

Gerald Perman, a Washington psychiatrist who became a concert impresario in his late 60s when he founded the Vocal Arts Society, a group that presented celebrated and unknown singers in classical repertory from around the world, died April 11 at his home in Washington. He was 91.

complete obituary

Filed under: obituary

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